by Paul Goldman
According to today’s Washington Post, Jonnie Williams appears to be “singing” like the proverbial “dirty rat” of a James Cagney movie. The lyrics? Apparently our “gifted Governor”, as the Post calls him, sold his office for a couple of real estate loans, wedding food, a dress for the First Lady, a Rolex for himself, and some other stuff in exchange for government favors provided by the McDonnell Administration, or the implicit promise of such favors.
If you believe the Post, all this “singing” has been music to the USDOJ’s ears. “You dirty rat!” exclaimed Cagney famously.
Which raises the issue: Is Jonnie Williams, aka Willie the Rat, telling the truth, or just being his sleazy self, this time selling “wolf tickets” to the prosecutors to save his own hide?
Based on the Post story, Mr. Williams has been ratting out the Guv for some time. According to Del. Joe Morrissey, my law firm partner and acknowledged as the best criminal trial attorney in the Richmond Metro region, the Governor’s lawyers would have known about the canary act for weeks if not longer.
Bottom line: The Post story, while news to the public, is thus not news to those inside the Governor’s legal and political inner circle. Mr. Morrissey says in these kinds of cases, you have to assume Williams will rat you out.
The history of Mr. Williams, aka CEO of Star Scientific, is clear: Jonnie boy is not a real businessman at all, but rather a guy who knows how to use political influence and promises of riches to insiders to leverage millions for himself and friends at the expense of everyone else. Sometimes the losers are average investors who buy his stock and lose money, or buy his products and find out they are scams. Sometimes the losers are the governments scammed by Johnny boy out of this or that. Sometimes the losers are the politicians themselves, who get roped into his scheme, only to find out he was slicker, and had cashed out while leaving them holding the bag.
But the pattern is always the same: Jonnie takes the money and runs, leaving someone else holding the bag, many others wrecked or ruined. Maybe some insiders get out the back door too before everything crashes. Sometimes he wipes out the pension plans of the workers, the home values or the reputations of friends and partners: or all of the above. Sometimes it helps lead to A Great Recession. Sometimes just to a few people getting crushed. But the basic MO, the basic result, is roughly the same: he wins, you lose. Caveat Emptor they call it in the law. Buyer beware. Once a scorpion, always a scorpion in the famous tale.
TO BE SURE: There are some who will “take one for the team”, go down in silence to save their patron. John Mitchell tried to do that for Richard Nixon. Jonnie Williams is none of that. Here, we have simply a sleazy business guy who saw his chances to get his hands on the Governor’s Mansion by putting up more money than anyone else. In his mind, he bought it fair and square.
It was purely cash and carry. Virginia is where he operates. That’s it, nothing more, nothing less, he has access to the Guv due to GOP political stuff over the years and campaign connections to McD, Kilgore, etc. As they say in the business, the McDonnell’s where low-hanging fruit.
A few years before, Governor Warner’s Administration got fooled and gave William’s company an economic grant in return for a promise to create jobs. I believe Kaine’s folks took it back. But regardless of what Governor’s Administration took it back, they realized Williams’ company was a smoke screen, not a real jobs producer as claimed. Okay, a bad pun since it was a tobacco “company” before becoming a diet supplement “company.” But a good analogy.
Sound familiar? It should: This is what these “business” guys do, they make promises of jobs, of economic riches, but it is all just calculated to help them sell stock or get more investors. In Williams’ case, his company makes no money — but it does attract investors, often little people, fooled by his salesmanship.
ENTER THEN: Maureen McDonnell, aka First Lady, who was the perfect pigeon for Williams. She has proven to be W—- T—– in that regard, easily swayed by his promises of riches and free stuff, and promises of cashing in when the company makes it big. He lives off these types. Rare to find them in the Governor’s Mansion. But history is full of family members of famous people who have been used in this regard.
Yes, the Governor was easy pickings for Williams too, once he learned of the financial difficulties due to the beach front property debacle and the McDonnell’s believing they deserved a more expensive lifestyle.
Being W—-T—- isn’t a crime, just a joke. Gaming the VA gift laws is a state crime at best, not a federal one. But clearly McDonnell got a little too greedy, a little too reckless, and a little too arrogant. And apparently, if the Post story is true, a little too trusting.
THIS SEEMS CLEAR: The federal prosecutors, to the extent what we read is true in the newspapers, got “interested” in McDonnell as collateral damage so to speak. He wasn’t the original target of their investigations. But that doesn’t matter now.
The question then is this: What does Johnny Williams really know, when did he really know it, and what kind of hard proof does he really have to make a federal case against one or more of the first family? Again, the key thing to remember: Guys like Williams expect to be investigated by the government.
Maybe the SEC goes after his company, maybe the USDOJ comes for him directly, whatever. So as part of the Williams escape plan, did he agree to wear a wire at some point? Had he long been recording telephone conversations with the GUV or First Lady or other officials [legal in VA but not in most states]? Did he keep a diary, or some contemporary records?
Remember: If the feds decided they would rather get the McDonnells as opposed to Williams, then these things are super valuable as trading leverage for Williams. BOTTOM LINE RIGHT NOW: Once the Governor’s lawyers realized Willie The Rat was singing, they would have to assume the worst.
However, unless Williams has some bombshell document, electric recording, or hard proof of the quid-pro-quo equation, his testimony alone IS NOT GOING TO BE ENOUGH TO GUARANTEE A CONVICTION. Why not? Williams is a sleazy business guy, no amount of federal magic can take the smell off. This is not a guy whose word alone is enough to convict McDonnell. Nor should it be.
Accordingly, we have to give McDonnell the benefit of the doubt right now even assuming Williams has been singing like ACDC all-night long. Williams is slick enough to tell the USDOJ what they want to hear without lying. But that doesn’t mean it is the truth.
Virginians would not elect anyone like Williams as their Governor: so why should the federales be allowed to unelect a Governor by using his uncorroborated testimony?
If Willie The Rat was a different guy, we could have a different discussion. Williams has every reason to say whatever he thinks the federales want him to say. I believe the feds are smart enough to know that. I believe they will not go “nuclear” against McDonnell without a slam dunk case. They value their reputation.
So put me down as Cuba Gooding: “Show me the money” I say. Until then: GUV McDonnell and Maureen McDonnell must be given the benefit of the doubt. You can not trust the likes of a Jonnie Williams. Those leaking stuff about Willie The Rat made this very clear today on the front page of the Washington Post.